My real life career involves technology consulting (not eating and drinking alas), which means that I work with a lot of Indians. As a result of chats and interactions, I have developed some understanding of the complexity of Indian culture, regions, castes and cuisines but to be honest, there's an incredible amount that I still don't understand.
I have learned though that when Indians working abroad find a good restaurant, they will visit it non-stop. Particularly if that restaurant makes dosas. On a recent project in the US, the local favourite restaurant would easily have a 30 minute wait time for its buffet lunch. I have often dined out with my colleagues, the sole white person in a sea of Indian dialects and accents. One of my retirement ideas is to open a traditional Indian restaurant in the vicinity of a technology company. Guaranteed success, trust me!
If Iyer's Cafe was located in Dublin, it would be full all the time, with queues of Dublin hipsters and health food fans strung out the door. God knows if the Indian population would even get a look in. Thankfully, it's not in Dublin but instead sits peacefully on Popes Quay in Cork. Gautham Iyer is the man behind Iyer's and he cooks southern Indian vegetarian food which is also often vegan and coeliac friendly. Now here's the science bit, he respects Ayurvedic principles, an ancient form of Indian medicine which maintains that the right food will balance and restore the system. At this stage, you must be wondering how vegetarian, health food could ever possibly tempt you?
The cafe itself is small with a simple light decor. A blackboard behind the counter lists the daily specials, with prices that are also refreshingly light. I started with one of my favourite treats, a mango lassi (a yogurt drink) which was gently tart, not as sweet as is often found in restaurants. An assorted platter of vegetable bajji was vibrantly coloured, with a tangy green chili, green apple and mint sauce, delivering just enough kick to wake up the taste buds.
|Vegetable bajjis with green chili and tamarind sauce|
Dosa are delicate, light pancakes made from a fermented rice and lentil batter. Good dosa have an airlike texture and our masala dosa was filled with a gently spiced potato and vegetable mixture, accompanied by a fresh coconut chutney. Two young kids at a nearby table were making short work of their dosa, relishing every bite. A kadai curry made with chunks of incredibly fresh paneer cheese and assorted vegetables managed to have a hint of rich creaminess without any heavy ingredients present.
Gautham's cooking changes according to the seasons, and menus are changed daily. On an earlier visit in February, a Madras thali plate contained basmati rice, chickpea chole and an incredible beetroot masala. I've always had a soft spot for this vegetable, despite its ability to stain every surface in the kitchen. I'd have Gautham's take on beetroot over the much abused beetroot and goats cheese salad anyway.
|Kadai paneer curry|
|Madras thali plate|
It's incredible to think that Gautham Iyer used to be an aeronautical engineer. This charming, energetic man has a gift with food that is immediately obvious and which crosses all cultural barriers. Before we left, he popped out from the magical kitchen with a little plate of gol gappas (or panipuri) for us to try. These little delights are a popular street food dish and it's easy to taste why. A crisp little shell, just large enough to be a single mouthful, was filled with a spicy mixture of vegetables and chickpeas.
Iyer's Cafe is healthy and vegetarian, not normally words that attract food lovers' attention. But forget any preconceptions about nut loaf and chickpeas that you may harbour. This food is sophisticated yet simple, tasty yet light. In a paradoxical way, it's mind blowingly good without being obvious. Once again, Cork leads the way in vegetarian cooking, with Iyer's adding itself nicely to Cafe Paradiso. Get yourself to Cork, get yourself to Iyer's.
Tel: +353 (0)87 640 9079